Halloween in the MMO

Autumn (aka. Halloween) celebrations are a staple of modern MMORPGs.

A low polygon count Halloween with Gnuhcgnaw
A low polygon count Halloween
Has anyone seen my decaying Undead flesh? I seem to have lost it.
Has anyone seen my decaying Undead flesh? I seem to have lost it.
Winner for tallest pumpkin in an MMO
Winner for tallest pumpkin in an MMO.
Is this scythe big enough to pick pumpkins?
Is this scythe big enough to pick pumpkins?
Quite possibly the strangest ghost costume ever created
Ye gods what is that?
Ye gods what is that?

(I was going to put another picture captioned “It’s always Halloween in Kingsmouth!” but I couldn’t find my screenshot.)

WoW Doesn't Take Itself Seriously

Playing WoW again recently, it dawned on me why it’s been so popular. It’s a good game and all, and it’s more addictive than blue meth, but I think that one of the main things that pushes it over the top from niche game to mainstream hit is: It doesn’t take itself seriously.

Most people would probably be embarassed to admit that they play a game involving elves and dwarves and knights and dragons. Society tells us that those things are for kids, or hardcore D&D nerds, and those guys are weird. (At least they were when I was growing up.) WoW said to the world, hey all that stuff is stupid, right? We’re going to make fun of that in our game. We’re going to put in quests with ridiculous characters who say silly things and make meta jokes about pop culture and anything we can think of to keep this from being a serious fantasy world. Our trolls are going to be Jamaican stoners. Our Undead are going to be necrophiliacs. Our dwarves are going to be Scottish highlanders. It’s all just going to be a big silly cartoon. So nobody will have to pretend that they’re really playing in a fantasy world, and it’ll be okay for normal people to enjoy it. (Normal as in not a D&D nerd.)

Well, it’s a theory. Most MMOs try to build an immersive fantasy world and an immersive story where you are the hero that saves the world. But when you run around reading the quests in WoW, they are so silly that it’s impossible to take them seriously. I’m thinking of the Gnomeregan dungeon where all the inhabitants are thinly-disguised references to the 80s show The A-Team.

I think my theory will be put to the test when WildStar comes out. My inital reaction so far has been, "Ewww, that looks just like WoW." And all the promotional material thusfar has had the same cartoony, doesn’t-take-itself-seriously attitude as WoW. So based on my theory, WildStar should be a runaway hit and ESO, which is a more traditional, immersive fantasy world for D&D nerds, will become an afterthought.

WoW, Relaxing Trinquility

Perhaps as a result of a post on Inventory Full and a post on Herding Cats, I found myself playing WoW over the weekend. It was not one of my better weekends in terms of getting productive things done in my life, but I choose to think of that as the cause of playing WoW, rather than the effect. Anyway, I made a number of observations about WoW as compared to more modern MMOs.

It’s Huge. The game world is enormous, and there is a lot of running from place to place. That, I think, is the primary cause of people spending so much time in WoW. It simply takes a long time to get things done. You can’t just jump in and spend 15 minutes knocking out a few quests. You have to commit to spending some time in the game. My original hunter is now level 61 and on that Hell Penninsula I swear I must have spent twenty minutes just riding hippogryphs to get to the places I needed to go. (Once I accidentally clicked the wrong destination and had to fly somewhere and back. Talk about a groaner.)

It’s Grindy. WoW is quite grindy at times, particularly on the quests where you have to get X number of items from monster corpses. Because on those quests, the item only drops from the monster a certain percentage of the time, which never seems to be more than 50%. So if you need to pick up 10 foozle feet, you have to kill at least 20 foozles to finish the quest. Most modern MMOs don’t do that anymore, and boy are we glad.

It’s Difficult. WoW is actually kind of hard, if you’re not in the swing of it. You can’t just go walking out into the wilderness without a plan, particularly on the character I was playing who was a lowbie gnome mage. It’s hard to run away from monsters, it’s hard to see monsters, and it’s super easy to aggro other monsters. Sometimes you’ll be walking along and run right into the aggro range of a super elite boss, and next thing you know you’re doing a corpse run.

Respawn Is Slow. Along with the grindy bits above, the respawn rate for monsters is extremely slow. So say you have a quest to kill 10 foozles. If someone else has already been to the foozle camp recently and killed them, you have to stand there and wait for them to respawn. God forbid someone else is there waiting with you, because then you end up in a competition to tag the foozles when they spawn.

Classes Are Limited. You would think that a game that’s fifty years old would have limitless class possibilities and gameplay options, but it doesn’t. The classes are quite rigid, and there aren’t very many to pick from. It actually seems to me that some of the classes (eg. the mage I was playing) are not suitable for solo play at all. I haven’t played a warrior much lately but historically I also found it hard to play solo. Generally I’m only comfortable soloing with a pet class. Back in the day, I had to roll a hunter because it was the only way I could get anywhere in the game.

Addons Are Mandatory. Good lord there are a lot of addons, and you really need them, because the native WoW interface is kind of bad. Almost everything you’re used to in a modern MMO is missing in native WoW. You even need an addon for the dead simple core action of comparing an item in your inventory to an item you’re wearing.

I left out some other problems, like constantly running out of inventory space, and the inconvenience of banking. After that list of complaints you might wonder why on earth anyone would subject themselves to WoW.

It’s fun. :) The repetitiveness has a relaxing tranquility to it.